Monday, December 26, 2011

Wasteful Irish Digital TV Changeover


Irish TV is Going Digital
in 2012

This Post is about sustainability and waste of natural resources - it is also a rant!

There is a saying in Ireland; "there are two ways of doing a job, (1) the general way, and (2) the Irish way"!!

Irish TV is going 100% digital in less than a year - so a good thing - eh - yes and NO!!

For the last several years there have been hundreds of thousands of TV sets and PVRs sold in Ireland all with built-in "Freeview" digital capability - a ready made audience out there for Digital TV.

You might say it was an "NO BRAINER" for Ireland to use the "Freeview" system, given so many people already have ready made receiving systems?

Damn it all - you would be completely wrong in your thinking. Why? because you would not probably be factoring in that the decision making is often done by public sector employees who have IMHO no contact with reality. Or additionally or alternatively, there is the good old kick-back system at work - lots of vested interests!!

I already own a TV set, a PVR and a VCR all with "Freeview" capability. Will I be willing to complicate my system and spend more money to add a  uniquely Irish "Saorview" (means actually "free-view") box to my system?  Bloody hell - I will not. For the most part Irish TV is pretty much crap anyway - when compared to the BBC, ITV, CH4 and all the International stuff available on FreeSat.

Spend more money and complicate my system to watch Irish TV - when I already have new and perfectly good equipment that is more than capable of the job - NO THANKS.

Another way for Irish TV to go digital and get 100% geographical coverage was to buy space on BBC FreeSat system - that solution also would be much too logical and way too simple to suit the "Irish" way of doing things. All smacks of the millions spent on unused voting machines - and a dozen other wasteful scandals. The questions that should be asked about how the Irish digital TV decision was made could essentially, IMHO, be boiled down to TWO QUESTIONS: (1) Gougers? or (2) Gowls?

A few million wasted there - ahhhh sure - what the heck - there's plenty more where that came from - isn't that right Seamus?

Here is my e-mail to the Saorview people:


Ireland has had hundreds of thousands of TV sets and PVRs with Freeview built into them sold in the last few years. I myself have no less than three items TV PVR and VCR all with Freeview built into them.

But when there is some job to be done in Ireland - there are two ways of tackling the matter. (1) The General Worldwide Way and (2) the "Irish Way".

Some bunch of overpaid public service "gobshites" chose to go bloody "Saorview" instead of the generally acceptable and widely available "Freeview" system.

What does this mean to me - it simply means I will not be bothering with Irish TV anymore after October 2012. I will be damned if I am going to complicate my system and incur further expense adding a saorview - bloody box.

My FreeSat will provide me with more balanced news, current affairs, advert free programming, and movies.

Damn it - I love Ireland and I hate the gobshite way that things are done in Ireland.


Tony McGinley


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ireland State of the Nation Politics and Poverty


"it was the best of times -
it was the worst of times"

Strange year 2011 - and I wonder what sort of a black hole are we looking down into in 2012?  My tag line for 2011 and my wish for 2012 are the following:

Not Until!

Not until the hard-pressed and poorer half of the (Irish) population see the well-off paying their fair share. Not until the government have the gonads to take on a bloated and inefficient public service sector. Not until the Irish Parliament take a moral lead by reducing their own huge salaries and pensions by a substantial amount, like 50%, and not until they additionally limit their obscene and obese expenses to say €10,000 of ticketed items a year, will there be any appetite in the population for the hair-shirt taxation now being placed on rich and poor alike.

(The current political situation)
It is a déja vu situation echoing  past times when Charlie Haughy, addressing the nation, told the Irish people to tighten their belts, while, at the very same time, he was buying a bunch of Charvet shirts in Paris for £16,000 or what amounted to more than two years income for most.

The Spirit of Christmas

I wish my readers the true spirit of Christmas the Holy season, and a fresh hope for the New Year.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HSE Health Service Executive FLUSHED


Is it GOOD news
or not-so-good news

The Irish Health Minister has announced the winding up of the HSE Health Service Executive, which I prefer to call the Huge State Enema, because this organisation has wastefully managed to flush away more millions than nearly all the rest of the State agencies put together.

But the question remains, is it time to jump for joy? Somehow, I have very very very serious doubts indeed - so I will not be cracking out my ballet pumps. 

Why do I have serious doubts??? Because the very SAME people will be running the new show. It could perhaps be said by some people - certainly not me,  that this is a bit like getting rid of Hitler from Europe, and then putting him in charge of Israel.

So maybe the above picture is more representative of the general emotions that will be felt by many at the news that at long last the HSE has been flushed down the toilet - along with the billions of Euro they wasted.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ireland Black Economy and Civil Disobedience


(Rant Warning Duly Issued!!)

I fear the Irish social balance is tipping beyond the point of recovery. The extreme levels of potential difference could well be about to flash-over and discharge like a lightening bolt.

I've posted a number of times about the vigorously growing "Black Economy" in Ireland - it is growing by the day. It is partially driven by the gross imbalances in our society, and also by the unfair taxation being placed on rich and poor alike, and taking little or no cognisance of fairness and balance.

On the one hand you have an over-paid elite on €200,000+ per year - who cannot see what the problem is, and on the other end of the scale you have families trying to subsist on about €10,000, who cannot see for the anger they feel at the injustices they experience. Yet both of these groups are being taxed exactly the same in many instances.

The most recent tax introduced is a €100 household tax.The  €100 to those on incomes of €100,000 is a thing of nothing. But to those at the other end of the income scale, it is frequently the difference between eating or not eating, between heating the home, and not heating the home, between having medical treatment or doing without. The situation represents nothing short of social injustice and I believe it to be morally wrong. The same dynamic is true for the carbon tax and the VAT placed on essential heating fuels.

Collective Madness?

A €100 household tax, carbon tax and 13.5% VAT on essential heating fuels -  all on a country where there is some 40% fuel poverty???   Is this a collective madness or what?

The social imbalance, and the gross injustices that these imbalances actually represent, are giving birth to civil disobedience movements lead by some rebel members of the Irish parliament. There is a move afoot to rally the masses into not paying the household levy. There is also a growing anger among the less well off, as they see the fat cats prosper while they are squeezed ever harder.

What we do not want is a breakdown in the civil order. It is my belief that clear and decisive actions need to be taken immediately to avert this imminent danger.

Not Until!

Not until the hard-pressed and poorer half of the population see the well-off paying their fair share. Not until the government have the gonads to take on a bloated and inefficient public service sector. Not until the Irish Parliament take a moral lead by reducing their own huge salaries and pensions by a substantial amount, like 50%, and not until they additionally limit their obscene and obese expenses to say €10,000 of ticketed items a year, will there be any appetite in the population for the hair-shirt taxation now being placed on rich and poor alike.

It is a déja vu situation echoing  past times when Charlie Haughy, addressing the nation, told the Irish people to tighten their belts, while, at the very same time, he was buying a bunch of Charvet shirts in Paris for £16,000 or what amounted to more than two years income for most.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wasteful self-serving Irish Public Sector


Self serving Institutions
Wasteful Public Sector

Minister Brendan Howlin, the Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform - a new Irish Reformation - has a right old dogs body of a job before him. Why am I saying that just now?

Well it's because I have just heard of a report from the ESRI (economic and Social research Institute) which clearly indicated that, despite


- yea - I wrote it with all the zeros and nice and BIG so you can clearly see the amount of money in question - €6bn extra having been spent between 2003 and 2007 on the various Public Services, that there was no noticeable improvement in the service.

Self Serving Institutions

This is the Gospel I have been trying to spread about “Self Serving Institutions” run by over-paid completely - insulated from reality - public servants.

 HSE Huge State Enema

Only in the Educational sector was there any degree of perceived improvement. So Minister, why not consider scrapping the (HSE Huge State Enema), otherwise known as the Health Service Executive.

Minister, while you are at it, please also consider scrapping SEAI. You might also consider asking Michael O’Leary of Ryan Air, and some other people with an actual business sense, to take charge of these services for a year and clean them up, because hopefully they would not stand for the grotesquely deformed monster that currently passes for service by these institutions. Trades Unions, which basically I would support in theory, are also to blame for breeding much of the un-maintainable unreality we now have on our hands.

The private sector  public are getting restless Minister!!


Friday, December 09, 2011

New Irish Fuel Poverty Authority



It was like a dream that I had and I was just thrilled to hear the following news:

The Irish Government has just announced that they intend to scrap the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) - and replace it with a new agency whose prime remit will be to tackle the very embarrassing and highly immoral level of Fuel Poverty in the country.

The new Government Agency, without a name as yet,  will, among other projects,  promote the installation of efficient small multi-fuel stoves in the thousands of older homes which currently lack efficient heating appliances.

Stove Installations costing no more than €500!

 These types of  stoves cost no more than €400 retail and installation costs could easily be kept to an average of €200. Of course when the stoves are purchased in very large quantities, and when the VAT is removed - the cost could be well below €300 per unit.

Inset stoves that could fit directly into an existing fireplace with minimal labour and materials can currently be purchased for around €500. Bulk purchase and VAT removed, these stoves could easily be distributed at less than €400, installation costs could easily be limited to around €100 per house.

In addition to the prime goal of getting rid of open fires and inefficient solid fuel stoves, the new agency will additionally embark on a drive to promote the use of Wood Briquettes and other Eco Fuels and thereby, over time, eliminate coal, turf, and other fossil fuels.

Wood Briquettes, when purchased by the ton, or 1000Kg, retail at only €346 per ton pallet. The current level of VAT which is 13.50% on this Eco Fuel will be removed, thus making a retail price of only €305 per 1000Kg.

Eco Fuel at only €12.20 per 40Kg bag!

That price would give the equivalent of €12.20 for a 40Kg bag. When you put that against the current best price for coal at around €14 per 40Kg bag, it will prove a powerful incentive for people to move over to Eco Friendly Carbon Neutral wood fuels.

How this fuel will be distributed has not as yet been decided, but the agency will make sure that it does not become the domain of the door to door price gougers!!

A further drive of the new agency will be to educate the public on fuel efficiency and how best to manage their appliances and fuel in order to gain the best value for money.

There will be grants and loans, payable over time from pensions and allowances. These will be made available for pensioners and those on marginal incomes.

New Agency could Kill 2 Birds - with 1 Stone

This new agency could kill two birds with the one stone (1) Ease Fuel Poverty, and (2) Promote Sustainable energy -  if it can be kept honest and if it is managed using standards from the real world and not become self-serving institutions run by fat salaried individuals on €1000,000 plus per year.

Wouldn't it be grand if this could be pulled off?


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Fuel Poverty and Sustainable Energy


Fuel Poverty
Sustainable Energy
some thoughts

Thankfully the Irish Government, in its recent hair-shirt budget, saw fit not to place the extra burden of another layer of carbon tax on solid fuels. This will be some small consolation to the many who depend on open fires etc. for their primary heat.

What I would love to see is the SEAI being set on a path to put small efficient multi-fuel stoves into the thousands of older homes with very inefficient fires. Then, as an additional measure, the promotion of eco-friendly fuels to burn in these stoves. This could be done by removing the 13.5% VAT on wood and bio-mass briquettes, and even by subsidising the price and fixing the maximum final retail price per kilo- so to stop the gougers cashing in on the deal.

Such a smple, inexpensive, and uncomplicated strategy would, I am sure, be beneath the dignity of, and not to the taste of SEAI. So a good idea would be to scrap the SEAI and set up a "Fuel Poverty" agency who's prime remit would be to tackle the immoral level of the problem, and as a secondary goal promote sustainability through the promotion and education about the use of eco-friendly fuels and appliances.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Redefining Sustainable Energy


R E - D E F I N I N G
Sustainability and Sustainable Energy
in the light of Fuel Poverty

I have got some nudges from a few readers about my recent statement that I have decided to forgo on ordering oil this winter and instead use coal. I have done this as a protest because heating oil in the Republic is some 20%+ higher than a few miles up the road in the North of Ireland.

Many people who have no choice but to use oil are this winter buying their heating oil in cans by the week or by the month. They are doing this because they cannot afford a fill of oil. In so doing, they are being charged an extra 10% at the pumps on top of the 20%+ the Republic of Ireland charges over and above the Northern. Ireland prices. Currently heating oil is at €870 a fill and soon to reach almost €1000.

There are also the many people in Ireland who do not even have the luxury of oil heating, and who depend on open fires, electric heaters or old inefficient solid fuel ranges for their heat.

Fuel Poverty

In August of 2008 the WHO World Health Organisation described Ireland's then level of Fuel Poverty at 17% as "Shocking". I am inclined to guess that the figure now is more like 35% or even higher - and rising by the day. What would the WHO say to 40% fuel poverty in Ireland?

An acceptable definition of fuel poverty is where a household is spending in excess of 10% of its income on energy.

The figure is an international embarrassment to a rich country who's professionals, public service managers, and politicians earn twice as much as what is acceptable say in Germany a way richer country than little old Ireland.. A surgeon with 5 years experience in Germany earns €117,000.

So what are the average energy costs in a household? My own costs, based on current prices and working on usage taken from last year, are roughly: Electricity just under €1,000, Oil €1,100, coal etc. €500. That comes to €2,600 a year and we count ourselves as economical in our usage. That €2,600 will increase to €2,860 with the increase in carbon tax and the 13.5% on top of the carbon tax. 

In Ireland Today Fuel Poverty = Households with an income of less than €28,600

By the accepted definition of fuel poverty, any Irish household living in a fairly average house, that has an income of less than €28,600 a year - €550 a week -  is deemed to be in fuel poverty. Carbon Tax and VAT at 13.5% is a major contributory factor.

Re-defining Sustainability

This Blog is about sustainable energy... . .  But, in the last year or so,  I have desperately felt the need to re-define the meaning of sustainable.

Here are two dictionary definitions of the word SUSTAINABLE:

(1) Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

(2) Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of union, an interdependent relationship and mutual responsible position with all living and non living things on earth. (from Wikipedia)

The capacity to endure!!

Sustainability from Two Perspectives

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland was established during the "Celtic Tiger" years. The focus of that over funded "Authority" was towards promoting projects in sustainable energy by means of grants and education.

The grant and education schemes however tended to focus on GRAND projects which only the better off could afford, such as geo-thermal heating systems.  They forgot things like simple and efficient stoves at €400 each and using wood briquettes with the 13.5% VAT removed and even perhaps subsidised in price. Damn it!!! - that would have been too simple and unsophisticated to warrant considering. Instead they went wood pellet stoves at €6,000 or more. They did not even check the availability of the fuel before embarking on a nation-wide promotion.

In that light I have been thinking about what sustainability means when viewed from both ends of the social scale.

TOP END:On the top end the professional, the legal, the judicial, and the government earners on €100,000 to €300,000 a year. That is €1,923 per week to €5,769 a week.

BOTTOM END:On the bottom of the pile those who are living - is "living" the right word to use here? -  on €188 per week.

What does Sustainable Energy mean?

(A) SUSTAINABLE ENERGY for the well-off among us is represented by thinking about things such as, geo-thermal heating systems at   €15,000+, or solar panels on the roof at €4,000, or a fancy heating control system costing several thousands of Euro, etc. etc. Those with the money got generous grants of up to €7,000 of tax payers money to install these systems.

(B) SUSTAINABLE ENERGY for the less well-off like those living on €188 per week, is represented by thinking about how much heating oil can I afford to put in the tank this month maybe 30 Litres or even 40 Litres, can I buy one bag of coal or maybe two bags, or can I afford to switch on the immersion heater for a bath.

Carbon Tax + VAT of 13.5% on fuel and Sustainability

Carbon tax in not a fair tax. Neither is the 13.5% VAT on essential heating fuel. The latest increases in carbon tax for those on €100,000+ a year hardly makes a difference, and anyway many of those already have geo-thermal, solar, and wood pellet heating systems. Carbon tax will perhaps impinge on the income by at most 0.20%.. -  On the other side of the fence, for those subsisting on €10,00 - €12,000 a year these "TAXES" could affect the household income by as much as 5%. The taxes could also take food from the table, or heat from the home - depriving the family.

I would call that "taxing the poor more than the rich". This is to my limited understanding, inequitable, immoral, and unsustainable.

As the social, fiscal and governmental systems are currently operating in Ireland, they are IMHO not providing for sustainability. Sustainability requires equitable balance, that balance requires unity of purpose governed by sharply defined moral principles and ethics.

The current imbalance is leading to an increasing potential between the haves and the have-nots which is widening daily.

It is like static building in a thunder cloud, and at some stage, that build-up of potential will flash-over and break down, perhaps violently, unless the huge and immoral imbalances are rapidly and seriously redressed.

The storm clouds are gathering and the sky is getting blacker!!


Saturday, December 03, 2011

Smokeless Calco Coal and Stove Warranties


Stop the Panic

There is a degree of paranoia spreading out there regarding the use of Calco and other blended smokeless coals containing Petro-Coke. The reason for this anxiety is that some manufacturers state a caveat in their warranty to the effect that use of coals containing  "Petro-Coke" will invalidate their warranty.

The Solid Fuel Technology Institute define "Petro-Coke" as follows:

Petroleum Coke: A solid fuel made from petroleum residues. High in sulphur and low in protective ash it burns with intense heat, but can damage appliances and cause high levels of atmospheric sulphuric acid unless used mixed with another material (such as an alkaline stone or coke).

Most commercial coals which contain perto-coke come blended with other fuels in order to balance out the burning characteristics, I am not aware of a retail coal which contains only petro-coke.

Petro Coke some facts

(1) Petro-Coke has a lower ash level of (<;0.5%),
(2) a lower moisture content of (8-10%) and
(3) is lower in volatiles (8-10%) than regular coal,
(4) this results in very much higher heat output.

The extra heat is in the order of  32,565 kJ/kg - regular coal gives about 24,000 kJ/kg, That means petro-coke delivers about 30% more heat than your average coal does - same as saying when you buy a bag of coal here is an extra 30% free.

The Negative Stuff

Petro Coke has a highish sulphur and other - not so nice stuff - in it - this means that apart from not smelling great when burned, it pollutes the atmosphere - like all coals and oils do - only a bit more.

Because Petro-Coke can give such a high heat output, and because it is capable of burning at a high temperature, and because it develops so little ash, it is possible for it to overheat the grates and baffles in a stove. That is if it is allowed to burn at a high rate.

But you DO NOT have to have a stove burning white hot - you can simply turn down the air control and keep it ticking over at perfectly acceptable temperatures.

Also, by mixing it with other fuels, the burn can be regulated. Most coal merchants already sell Petro-Coke as mix with other solid fuels.

Several stove manufacturers will not guarantee the life of grates and baffles where petro-coke is regularly burned. You would need to take this into account. If however your stove is out of guarantee, and you are careful not to allow it to overheat, and if you mix the fuel - you have no fear in using Calco or other mixes of coal with petro-coke.

Bottom Line

By using coal mixes with Petro-Coke in them, we are not talking danger or extreme damage to a stove, the worst that can happen is you can shorten the life of the grates and baffles through overheating them.

Balance that against the savings on a coal that is some 30+% cheaper to begin with, and on top of that gives some 30+% more heat output. I would think that that saving, over a couple of years, would more than pay for a set of grates! But don't take my word for it.


New Inset Multi Fuel Stove from Hamco


Hamco Co. Offaly
Have a New
Inset Stove
Street Price under €600

I was talking again yesterday to Brian Mc Mahon of Hamco - no -  he is not related to the Listowel writer - he tells me their inset stove is now in the showrooms.

There is a limited supply out there so you will have to hunt around if you are looking for one. Yea - I know the photo is lousy - this is because there is no brochure printed yet for the new stove - it will be called "The Glen" - and that picture above came from Brian's phone, taken with the stove - still on the darn pallet. Nothing like good presentation Brian!!


Anyone thinking of an inset would might like to take a look at the Hamco. If budget is an issue - this stove is almost 30% cheaper than the Blacksmith inset stove, and it is over 40% cheaper than the Mulberry inset stove.


Quality? - Brian McMahon told me that the castings of the metal in contact with the fire are in 17% high-chromium metal - this is the industry standard. The look is plain clean lines and a bit retro. The primary air intake control is a slide knob - I have found this type to be a bit more difficult to accurately adjust. That lot said, this looks like a very good value-for-money stove.

As soon as I get to examine a working model, I shall write up my observations here on this blog.


Time of this add-on note: October 2012, and to date I have not even seen a Hamco inset stove let alone seen one in a working situation. I can therefore give no first hand opinion whatsoever on this stove.

Since I wrote the original post, there have been several other offerings of insert / inset stoves available on the Irish market. It should not be difficult to purchase a good quality inst for €500 - €600.


Friday, December 02, 2011

My Experimental Custom Fireplace Door


Lots of People Asking 
Where did I get my 
Fireplace Door

I have clearly indicated several times on this blog - that this is a ONE-OFF  - custom, self-designed - experimental door.

A good friend made it for me. It is made in stainless steel sheet metal, but could equally be made in ordinary carbon steel sheeting and painted with a heat proof paint.

No - -  I do not know where you can have one made. What would it cost to have a custom door made? - I do not know. the answer to that either.

If you had a design, set of basic drawings, and exact dimensions, and you asked a sheet metal works to produce it, I guess you could be talking €500 or more - custom stuff is not worth considering unless you have the facilities.

I believe there are a number of ready made fireplace doors now available - but remember these will be to standard size fittings only most likely a 16".  I do NOT KNOW who makes them or how much they cost. If someone has specific information, I would be glad to publish it.

My experimental fireplace door has proved - in my case - to be hugely successful. The success is in no small part due to there being a back boiler insitu. I don't think I would recommend a fireplace door where there is not a wrap round back boiler.

An inset stove is the obvious answer where there is no back boiler. There are several more makes of inset stove becoming available and the price is also coming down on some of them.

I will post further on inset stoves soon.


Wood Pellets can Emit Toxic Gasses



Wood Pellets can 
Emit Poisonous Gas

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has issued a general alert regarding the danger of Carbon Monoxide poisoning in wood pellets hoppers and storage areas.

This warning came after a fatal accident where a householder died after being overcome by an accumulation of CARBON MONOXIDE in a storage hopper for wood pellets. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas you won't ven notice it killing you.  It is a highly toxic gas and easily kills.

Wood Pellet Boilers are commonly used in homes and businesses as an alternative to the oil or gas fired boilers. Wood pellets, the fuel source for these units are normally housed in a large sealed hopper/tank that is either fitted with screw feeder (auger) connected to the boiler, or the hopper/tank is mounted over the boiler for gravity feeding. Due to the enclosed nature of these hoppers/tanks the atmosphere inside can become oxygen depleted and a toxic atmosphere can accumulate. The HSA is asking all operators, maintenance personnel and users of this equipment to do the following:

1.    DO NOT ENTER or place your head into the wood pellet hopper under any circumstances. The unit can contain toxic gases.
2.    Ensure that your wood pellet hopper/tank and boiler has been installed and commissioned by a competent person. If in doubt, contact the supplier and/or manufacturer and request assistance.
3.    Ensure that the boiler is cleaned and serviced by a competent person at the frequency required by the manufacturers’ instructions.
4.    If any problems are encountered with the unit, such as, system not heating correctly, flue gas is flowing into boiler room, turn unit off and seek assistance immediately.
5.    No personnel should enter the hopper/tank unless fully trained and competent in confined space entry procedures. The hopper/tank should be fully ventilated and controls put in place to ensure safe entry as per the HSA Code of Practice “Safe Work in Confined Spaces”
6.    Ensure boiler room is well ventilated at all times to ensure no inadvertent build up of toxic gases.


Calco Smokless Coal Problem in some stoves


May Invalidate Guarantee 
on Some Multi-Fuel Stoves

I have just learned - so I am passing the information on my readers - that the use of CALCO smokeless coal may invalidate the guarantee on some makes of stove.

The reason for this is because the Calco Blend contains "Petro Coke" which is blended with Union Briquettes.

Petro Coke is a by product of the petroleum industry and is a very good solid fuel in terms of heat output. The problem arises because this petro coke actually burns very hot, too hot for some stoves and can therefore damage the appliance.

I have been using Calco for a month in my modified fireplace which has a back-boiler and a fireplace door. I am very happy with the results indeed. The fuel burns down to quite a fine ash and gives excellent heat output. I have not noticed any excess in the combustion, no more than I get with "CosyGlo" smokeless ovoids. At €14 a 40Kg bag and higher heat output Calco is a real bargain - pity there is a question about its use in stoves.

I have not used Calco in my stove as yet so I can give no feedback there. If you are worried you might damage a stove by using the much lower priced Calco, I would suggest contacting the stove manufacturer and checking it out.

I have no problem in continuing to use Calco in my fireplace as the results so far have been excellent.

Calco is distributed in Ireland by National Coal Company Belfast, Tel: 04890 - 611167


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Tackling Chimney and Fireplace Heat Loss


Tackling Heat Loss 
from Open Fireplaces

Got this letter today, from Gavin Harkness, asking about how to deal with heat loss and draughts caused by an open fireplace chimney, and I think it is timely to deal with this subject here and now.

I've been following your blog for a couple of months now, as I try to get a handle on all the various Energy Efficiency technologies and how I can adapt them to the house that I'm renting.

Being from tropical Australia, heating wasn't really a problem, so it's been hard to get real answers about what works and what is available. I live in a very efficient, modern house, with an outdoor oil heater and an open fireplace (no back boiler). With it's underfloor heating and good insulation, the house is maintained at a constant 20C.

What has been irritating me is the open fireplace, sucking valuable warm air straight up the chimney. We only light the fire for mere aesthetics purposes. No one, including a couple of BER assessors could give me a solution. I've been reading your insert fireplace reviews, but I could (not) see myself paying €1000, nor my landlord (either). But today, I found (a website by) these guys (who offer a kind of chimney trapdoor that shuts off the flue when not in use - costing 250 Euro fitted). It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on these sorts of products. Gavin Harkness.

Chimneys act like HUGE Vacuum Cleaners 

Think of a chimney on an open fireplace as the hose of a GIANT VACUUM CLEANER. It is constantly sucking huge amounts of air out of the room. That is fine in summertime, but in the winter, it is sucking out the heat and causing draughts to come in under the doors and through every possible crack and cranny.

My preferred method of dealing with this problem is as I have already extensively outlined in previous posts to this blog - with fireplace doors or with inset stoves.

Gavin's problem is that he is in rented accommodation and does not want to invest big money in another persons house.

A Few Possible Solutions

The cheapest and simplest solutions would be:

(a) To stick something up the chimney when not in use. Problem is forgetting it was there and lighting a fire would create a bit of a disaster. If, additionally,  the chimney stopper was flammable that would compound the problem. A perhaps safer way of doing it would be a heavy duty balloon - which is mostly air - there are proprietary chimney blocking devices which are essentially blow-up plastic bags. All of these methods are messy, especially when you go to take the thing out of the chimney.

(b) SAFEER CHEAPER and SIMPLE - Make a temporary screen, ideally of metal for safety,  that fits fairly tightly into the fireplace opening. This will effectively block the air flow up the chimney, and it can simply and easily be removed when you want to light a fire.

More Permanent but FUSSY Solutions

There are a number of permanent fitted solutions on the market, but these are fussy at best and bloody expensive for what you get. Above pictured is a neat cast iron chimney throat damper. The damper itself is about €200 and then there is the cost of fitting. That is perhaps something akin to the idea  mentioned in Gavin's letter above.

Above is a drawing of a chimney top damper. This type of damper is operated by a chain from below. Again it can be costly enough and there remains the danger of forgetting to open it when lighting a fire.


As a temporary solution I would personally go with a fitted screen into the fireplace opening. A nice piece of aluminium sheet cut and basically formed to fit.

(1) Cost would not be more than about €20 to €40. You could even do it DIY if you are any way handy.

(2) You could NOT possibly forget to remove it when lighting a fire, and

(3) There would be no associated difficulties or dangers involved.

So Much for the SEAI and its spawn - BER Assessors

SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) would never come up with simple and inexpensive answers to energy efficiency - neither evidently can their offspring the BER Assessors!!

So - Gavin have I answered your questions? About my fee  - - - - - -


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wood Briquettes Eco and Eco-nomic Solution


Heat or Eat
The Cost of Heating
An Ecological Solution? 
This post has been partly updated

A large part of the Irish population still relies on open fires and stoves as the main heat source. It is generally the more vulnerable and elderly that fall into this category and will be the ones most adversely affected by the Carbon Tax increases.

The Irish government really needs to think this one out a bit more carefully. At the very least, they could drop the 13.5% VAT on wood and biomass heating products. They would also need to promote their use as most people do not know much about them or how to properly use them.

Coal and peat products, including peat briquettes, will go up in price by about 10% in the New Year when the government imposes an extra carbon tax. The carbon tax with have the 13.5% VAT placed on top of it, so that is how the 10% comes about.

An €18.50 Euro bag of smokeless coal will become a €20.35 bag of coal, and a €3.99 bale of peat briquettes will be priced at €4.39.

Wood the answer?

Wood is carbon neutral and a 100% renewable source it does not have a carbon tax placed on it. Eco friendly wood products do however have a 13.50% VAT placed on them.

Lump wood, like logs and blocks, is not the most convenient fuel to use. Also, the wood blocks that are touted door to door in fertiliser bags are VERY poor value for money. That is because of two things:

(1) They are generally soft wood - which has low heat output.
(2) Those block are not kiln dried and carry up to 30% moisture in them.

Wood that has more than 20% moisture uses a lot of the heat just to get rid of the moisture, and some very damp wood hardly gives any heat output at all!!

Wood Briquettes, on the other hand,  are VERY LOW moisture only about 5%. This is especially true of the baked / cooked dark ones.

Wood briquettes are 100% wood and therefore DO NOT carry any carbon tax and will not be going up in price in the New Year. The price increase in fossil fuels will mean that the Eco friendly fuels like wood briquettes will become much more price competitive.

Peat and Wood Briquettes similar heat output

Kilogram for kilogram Peat Briquettes and Eco Wood Briquettes give about the same heat output. The differences are:

1.    Eco Briquettes burn better.
2.    Eco Briquettes leave much less ash.
3.    Eco Briquette ash is clean and a great garden fertiliser.
4.    Eco Briquettes do not cause the destruction of the last few bogs in Ireland.

Good quality coal has perhaps a 20% higher heat output to wood briquettes. However, coal leaves a lot of ash and clinker, which is partially toxic to nature, try sticking it on you garden! Coal is a dirty substance and the smell of burning coal is horrible. Burning wood smells really nice.

There are a number of suppliers for the good quality wood briquettes in Ireland. If you want a price that competes with coal on a heat value per Euro basis, you will need to purchase a large quantity.

Different Types and Qualities of Wood Briquette

These are the good type - They come in several shapes but all have a similar look

In my last post I discussed wood briquettes briefly and said that I would avoid the type that looks like a block of sawdust or a lump of chipboard.

 This is the not-so-good chipboard block type of briquette

The chipboard type of sawdust block does not burn very well when compared to the highly compressed and heat treated type. Buy them only if you get a very very very good price!!

 A better type above has a dark colour and fine texture - not like chipboard

The type of wood briquette are usually 100% hardwood briquettes which are dark in colour because they have been "Cooked". They are very hard and burn very well. The give way more heat than any type of logs you care to mention. The do not spark or spit. They burn fully down to a very fine ash.


The briquettes with a hole in the middle burn way TOO QUICKLY. While they are superior to the "sawdust" blocks, and to the hammer-mill layered sawdust briquettes - they still are by no means ideal.

Only one type of wood briquette can replace coal - that type is so hard you could hardly hammer a nail into it - it also is solid - no hole in the middle - so the burn is more like lumps of coal. This type I have written about are generally not available in Ireland. See my articles do a search for HERMANSON BRIQUETTES.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Solid Fuels Prices and Types


Some Eco Friendly Fuels
and some not so
Environmentally Friendly Fuels

 This type of Highly Compressed and heat treated Briquette is good

Above is pictured an Eco Friendly - Wood Briquette. There are several types of wood based briquettes available on the market. The above type is a highly compressed, and heat treated briquette. The identifying characteristics are:

(1) Dark in colour looks partially burned.
(2) They are very hard indeed, somewhat brittle, and break easily with a tap.
(3) Have a pleasant almost incense like smell. Smell nice when burning too.
(4) Have a slight dusty sooty deposit on them.
(5) Some - but not all types - have a hole through the middle.

The above picture shows AFAIK an imported type of the heat compressed briquette. These can be bought quite cheaply in parts of the country.

There are ones made in Ireland and some imported ones. This is generally a good type of wood briquette which will burn really well leaving only a fine ash which is excellent for the garden as a fertiliser.


Price for this type varies quite a bit. Bord na Mona sell one but, as usual with BNM the price is not competitive.

The above pictured type can be bought on a one ton pallet for €346 in the Dublin area. There is a delivery charge on top of this amount though.

This is a so-called wood briquette - I would avoid this type

Above is another type of so-called wood briquette - these "things" come in a variety of shapes - some are round logs type things, others are various types of brick shapes.

These lumps of sawdust are in fact not a true briquette, they are basically just compressed sawdust, and they burn just like sawdust - poorly. You might as well be burning chunks of chipboard.

I have tried them and personally I would avoid them, unless they came very- very - very cheaply so as to make it really worth the trouble. otherwise I would say - stay away from them.

Peat Briquettes

Imported peat briquettes can be bought for €372 per ton delivered. This compares with smokeless coal at €350 per ton delivered and Premium Polish coal at €320 per ton delivered.

Peat Briquettes from Estonia different shape to Irish and CHEAPER

I have checked these prices in the last week and AFAIK they are correct. Please do not contact me asking for specifics. Do your own Google search, ask around, and you will find a good deal close to you I am sure. Just don't be satisfied with some of the rip-off prices on offer. The housing bubble would never have happened but for the silly people who were prepared to pay the crazy inflated prices being asked. Stand up for yourself and insist on a fair price for winter fuels.

Carbon Tax

The government are going to add another chunk of carbon tax soon to coals and oils - so stock up before the hit. It will be interesting to see if the Eco Friendly fuels will track the coals in price - given that the wood based fuels will NOT have a carbon tax added. But Ireland being the Rip-Off Republic, I predict that the gougers will be in there like a flash taking advantage.


Hamco Multi-Fuel Stoves and Insets


Hamco Multi-Fuel Stoves 
and Insets

I have been looking around for different makes of solid fuel stoves sold in Ireland, and the latest I have come across is a range marketed under the brand name of Hamco.

Hamco Enterprises Ltd. operate from Tullamore County Offaly. Hamco sell an extensive range of their own branded stoves and in addition carry the Franco Belge range of stoves.

My readers may have noticed that I have been looking closely at two particular types of stove. (1) Inexpensive small freestanding 6 to 7Kw stoves, and (2) Inset Stoves that can be easily fitted into an existing fireplace with a minimum of work.

Better than many Fancy SEAI Schemes

I believe that fitting stoves like these in the 100,000 or more open fires in Ireland, would do more for sustainability than all the fancy-schmancy and expensive schemes put together by SEAI (The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland).

New Hamco Inset Stove due Soon

I had a nice conversation with Hamco’s Brian McMahon who was most informative and well versed in his subject. Brian told me that Hamco are about to release an inset stove, and here is the good part, the recommended retail price will be only €620 inc. VAT. That means It should be completely feasible to purchase one of these stoves at around €550.

Hamco have their castings done in China the same as Blacksmith and Mulberry. The grates are in the same quality of high chromium iron 17% chromium, giving them longer life.

Next time a closer look at some Hamco Stoves.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Savings on Smokless Coal


€13 per 40Kg bag
Oil Prices have Gone Crazy
More Gov. Tax to be added soon
I've gone to Coal Heating this Winter

With a fill of heating oil now at €840 - I have had enough - -  and have decided to forgo entirely on oil this winter. I am breaking with sustainability principles BECAUSE I cannot afford to be green. if the Government want people to be green, then they need to make the green alternative affordable - not tax the daylights out of the people.

Stoves a great saving

Many hundreds of people are installing stoves. The best fuel to maximise a stoves output and extend the burning period to perhaps 9 hours on a single fill, is smokeless coals.

There are some wood based green alternatives BUT these are very expensive to use. If the Irish Government were well advised, they might subsidise and make tax free these wood based fuels - but that would be hoping for much too much.


The semi monopoly on solid fuel in Ireland is Bord na Mona, a semi-state company. Bord na Mona (The Peat Board) has its prices pitched well above other sources. It charges almost €19 for a 40Kg bag of cosyglo smokeless.

It is possible to get smokeless coals as cheap as €13 per 40Kg bag. One supplier in Co. Kerry offers  "Super Heat" smokeless mix, a small sized mixture, 1" to 2" nuggets, of several smokeless fuels at €39 for 3 bags. see the above photo, I have included a ruler in the picture to give you an idea of the size of the fuel.

Not the best smokless coal

This is not the best smokeless fuel I have used, but it is perfectly adequate for use in a stove. It gives excellent heat output, but it is harder to light initially, and there is a fair amount of small pieces in the mix which does not promote the burn as well as a fuel with larger sized pieces. This coal would be best used mixed with say Calco or similar. At the price though, it represents nothing short of a bargain. Calco is a better product at a slightly higher price.

Don't pay inflated prices for your coal this winter - ask around and shop around and you WILL find cheaper. When you find a cheaper source please do let others know, that way the word will spread quickly and the price gougers will be squeezed out.

This is where I got a bag of "Super Heat" smokeless (singles).

Econ Fuels
Monavalley Industrial Estate
(just off the "Fat Mile" and
opposite DPL builders suppliers)


Smokless Coal Prices in RipOff Ireland


Ireland Leading Again
in the
Rip-Off Stakes

This came in as a comment from Una Castle in Navan:

Unacastle has left a new comment on your post "Saving on Winter Fuels Smokeless Coal":

Hi. I'm in Navan and we have a Waterford Stanley stove. We find this Calco great ( I didn't realise it was smokeless, I thought it was called 'anthracite' -don't know where I got that idea) Anyway, we are paying 21.80 per bag so your price of 14 per bag is terrific. Such a pity so far away. If you hear of such a good deal else where would be great to know. Thanks Oonagh 


What can I say Oonagh - the Gombeen Men, they have been breeding in dark holes since the Famine, they are at it again.

The price you are being charged is nothing short of daylight robbery. The guys I am buying my coal from are still making a profit at €14 per bag. Granted this is a promotional price and may increase by a bit later on. But cowboys selling the stuff at €22 a bag - no way!

Bord na Mona CosyGlo is €18.50 and is a slightly better coal. Tell your local Calco supplier to go get lost. Try making a list of all fuel suppliers in your locality, ask around, and some weekend ring around and ask the prices - there has to be some honest dealers out there. If you find some honest ones let me know and I will give them a plug here.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ireland is Sick


What I Believe is 
with Ireland

(ya this is a rant - I need to let it out before I burst)

1.    Ireland has a HUGE ELEPHANTINE public service system. Paying for the upkeep of this top-heavy monster places an unacceptable burden on taxes. Ireland has a public service system which is:

(a) Highly inefficient  - compared to the private sector.
(b) In places perhaps 50% overstaffed  - compared to private enterprise, and
(c) Is overpaid by at least 25% compared to the private sector.
(d) Pays pensions which for the most part can only be dreamed of by the private sector.

Just go, for instance, and sit in any HSE office and watch the ant like movements of the masses of paper shufflers.

2.    There are simply way too many self-serving and wasteful governmental institutions, agencies, bodies, authorities, committees etc. etc. etc. Fás is a typical example of gross misconduct.

3.    We have had a much less than squeaky-clean government and parliament that bends to vested interests - and that over-pays itself handsomely. On a weighted comparison - perhaps the highest paid in the entire world. Salaries are paid - irrespective of attendance or of work performed - great job if you can get it!!

4.    Crazy, vastly inflated, and grossly disrespectful to the poorer people, ministerial and government pensions for life. Life-long pensions for some that have served only a few years. Potentially, you could have hundreds on €150,000 a year.

5.    Private and public sector professions that are out of control. Ireland has the highest paid medical, dental, legal, public service executives, and members of parliament - in the world. This represents a gross imbalance.

Any large imbalance in nature will cause an eventual and inevitable collapse of the potential differences. The Irish government needs to put an immediate and effective stop to the protectionism being practiced by many professional bodies in Ireland that effectively prevent non-nationals setting up their profession in Ireland. In fact they need to take steps to encourage doctors, dentists etc. to relocate to Ireland.

Essentially, the public have already cast their vote, with their feet, in this respect - as many thousands travel to Northern Ireland and to other EU countries for medical and dental treatment at half the Irish cost.

End of rant -for now!!


A Return to a Black Economy


Are We Heading
downhill at SPEED
into an even Blacker
Black Economy?

The leaked government papers from Germany show that we Irish are heading for more and more and more, and even more taxation. A general VAT rate of 23% will encourage not only cross-border trade, but will fuel a very healthy growth in the already thriving black economy.

The crazy Irish taxes on home heating oil, making it some 20+% more expensive than a few miles up the road in the north of Ireland, has prompted me this winter to forgo on oil heating altogether, and instead go for the dirtier, more carbon intensive but cheaper option of coal to heat my home.

Dr Sam Vaknin
In July last, I re-published, with kind permission, a very interesting piece by Sam Vaknin on Black Economy called "The Blessings of the Black Economy". I recommend it to my readers.

Depression, Substance Abuse and Suicide

It would be far too easy for individuals to fall into a state of depression and anxiety given what we are facing economically. And all that economic and psychological suffering simply to pay for the robbery, the cheating, the greedy mishandling by bankers, the despicable speculators, and the corrupt elements of government. 

Economic depression is intrinsically linked to psychological depression, which in turn is linked to substance abuse, social disorder, mental depression, and suicide.

Sam Vaknin shines a ray of hope on what I believe is an inevitable outcome of the unjustness of the economic situation.

Roll on The Black Economy

A great way of avoiding VAT is to establish bartering systems. This can work very well with services - I do some work for you, as a favour, and you return the favour in some other fashion.

Cross border day trips will boom so there is great hope for the traders North of the border. Repair and maintenance services will boom, as people will not be in a hurry to scrap older equipment.

With the extensive penetration of social media, all good ideas will very quickly spread, and people will find a way around draconian taxation.

I did not benefit in any way from the Celtic Tiger, I did not cause any losses in the banking system or the economy, I therefore do not see that I should be asked to pay for the cheaters and speculators mistakes. I will be doing all I can to avoid paying high taxes to bale-out the banks.

An Economic Famine

As Sam Vaknin points out in his thesis, a healthy Black Economy might be our only hope of preventing the country going completely and irretrievably into the red and everlasting debt. An economic Famine that could crush the very life from our economy and our people, depleting the population and denigrating our people just as effectively as our historic famines.

Moral Leadership

If the government had any notion of how to lead people, they would lead from the FRONT. This they could simply do by taking a token 50% cut in the enormous salaries and capping all expenses to members of the Irish Parliament. But have they even talked in this direction - - - ??


Friday, November 18, 2011

Fireplace Doors Stoves and Kachelovens


Further Update 
on my 
Experimental Fireplace Door 

A Kacheloven

Above is a photo of a modern stone faced "Kacheloven".  A "kacheloven" is a masonry stove, sometimes beautifully tiled with ceramic art, which is generally associated  with Germany and Austria. They are highly efficient stoves and the brick / clay fabric retains heat like a storage heater.

The main features are the sealed and air controlled fire box giving controlled burn, and the heat absorbing brickwork.

Have I created a Kacheloven by accident?

When I installed my experimental fire front door, I did so with a warning from an SEAI  "official" that it might lead to cracked masonry in the chimney due to overheating.

I basically figured that this would not occur, as I had a back-boiler installed which, I believed, would absorb much of the extra heat generated.

This was in fact the situation as it has emerged over a good time of constant use. What I did not expect from the installation, was the positive storage heater effect. The fire door and air control has slowed down the air rising up the chimney, allowing the chimney to absorb more of the heat.

When I eventually got the air control and sealing fully and efficiently operating, the overall efficiency of the fire was greatly increased.  The fire can now slow-burn for up to 10 hours on a single fill of fuel.

The Results

The stonework facing takes up a lot of heat and can reach  a peak of 70 degrees C. The chimney breast does not get this hot but can reach a maximum of about 45 degrees. The entire chimney warms up - heating the kitchen behind the wall and the bedrooms overhead.

It takes several hours for this heat to build up, and when the fire is kept going 24 - 7 it maintains a lovely heat in the whole house. Some of this heat is transferred by means of the back boiler which transfers perhaps between 2 to 7 kW perhaps to radiators etc. depending on the state of burn of the fire.

The winter so far this year has been mild and we have kept the fire more or less on minimum burn all of the time. The only heat source in the 12 foot by 18 foot living room is from the fire. That room stays almost a constant 22 to 23 degrees.

The rooms heated by radiator on the far end of the house tend to drop a little overnight but generally stay above 19 degrees. The house has never felt so constantly comfortable.

Above is a picture of my living room stone-fronted fireplace with the experimental fireplace door. The stone fronting is about 12cm deep and made of a very dense stone called Achill stone which is a sparkling amathystine quartz with a warm yellow tinge. The stone takes heat very well and retains it for hours.

So far this winter the stove is redundant

Our kitchen / dining room has a Blacksmith Anvil stove fitted. So far this winter, it has been redundant, as the heat from the shared chimney breast and some heat from a radiator has kept the room above 20 degrees. I am sure in the colder weather this will not be maintained.

Bottom line, so far this winter - the house is at 22 degrees 24 -7 and:

(1) We have not used the oil fired central heating at all. 
(2) We have not yet lit the stove in the kitchen.
(3) We have the electric immersion water heater turned off.

One single fire in the living room has kept the house toasty warm and supplied all the hot water needed as well.

What does it cost to run?

At the moment, mid November and mild, running the system 24 - 7, we are using about 50 to 60 Kgs of smokeless coal per week. This "Calco" coal is costing us just €14 per 40 Kg bag delivered - see my recent post:

So the heating and hot water is currently costing us between €17.50 and €21 a week. When you deduct the immersion heater electricity costs of roughly €1 per day (the immersion has been switched off for weeks), you get a space heating cost of between €10.50 and €14 per week for a toasty warm 24 -7 heated 4 bedroom house. I would say that is not bad at all.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mulberry Stoker Inset Stove


A First Look at 
The Mulberry Stoker
Inset Stove


I had a long and very interesting conversation recently with Peter Hughes of Mulberry Stoves Ireland. Peter really knows his stuff and answered my many questions regarding the design principles, operation, materials, installation, efficiency, fuel, and maintenance of solid fuel inset stoves.

Why am I telling you this? The reason I mention it is because it gives me confidence to know that there is an individual in a company who is a competent engineer, and who fully understands the scientific design and operating principles involved in their subject.

The Stoker Inset

The Mulberry Stoker is a bit different in its basic shape from the many run of the mill inset stoves on the market. It presents an unfussy look with modern simple clean lines.

I am looking here, in this posting, at the non-boiler version of the Mulberry Stoker. There is also a stove available with a built-in boiler.

One very different feature of the Stoker is the fire box, which appears to project outwards into the room in a unique "Bay Window" formation. This feature allows a very wide angle view of the fire, but it also presents a larger surface area to the room thus allowing more heat to radiate and convect to the room space.

This would appear to be reflected in the higher rated output of 6.5kW. A figure of between 5 and 6kW is about average. The Mulberry also has a notably higher efficiency of 76%. A certified efficiency of 76% is unusual in an inset stove. Efficiency of 70% would be considered good, 76% is closer to the efficiency of a free standing stove and is excellent for an inset.

Note the Dormer fronted Fire box

All of the castings which come into contact with the fire, such as grates, baffles etc., are done in 17%.hi-chrome iron. This makes them resistant to burning out and therefore longer lasting.

The Convection Airflow Pattern


The Stoker inset is a bit more expensive than the Blacksmith Anvil. The list price is just over €1000 but it can be purchased a deal cheaper than this. Walsh Bros. Tullamore currently have it on a special offer at €795.

Manufacturer Specifications

• Maximum output 6.5kW
• Maximum fuel consumption 0.93kg per hour
• Efficiency of 76%
• Clean burning with low emissions - O.26% CO (at 13% O2)
• Long lasting 17% Hi-Chrome castings in grate and firebox
• Unique bay window gives wide view of fire
• Window air wash for clean glass
• Provides both Convection and Radiant heat
• Will burn overnight
• Easily installed – DIY fitting in 15 minutes
• Works perfectly in normal chimney
• Can be used with or without flexible flue liner
• Guaranteed Irish – manufactured in Ireland
• Certified to EN 13240 and CE approved
• Manufactured by company certified to ISO 9001
and ISO 14001

I have not had a chance to see this stove working as yet, so I can give no assessment of its actual performance. When I get to examine one close up I will inform the blog with an update.